Backups to Target in Fantasy Football: Top RB and WR Backups to Draft

Backups to Target in Fantasy Football: Top RB and WR Backups to Draft

This article is part of our Football Draft Kit series.

Finding a backup to contribute to your march toward a championship is an essential skill. The best backups have both talent and a path to volume, but opportunity is most important. Even if a player only starts a few games, that can be enough for a title if those games come at the right time.

Consider two running backs who each get 150 touches in a season. One gets 6-10 touches every game, giving him limited value. The other sees most of that volume packed into a handful of weeks when he's replacing the team's injury-prone starter. Which one would you rather have on your roster?

Below is a list of players who have shown talent and are in roster situations that could provide the opportunity needed to make an impact. Stocking your reserve list with at least a couple, rather than veteran starters who are all floor and no ceiling, could mean the difference between winning and losing.

Tony Pollard, RB, Cowboys

Pollard topped 1,000 scrimmage yards last season working alongside Ezekiel Elliott. He's a big-play threat and has consistently been more efficient with his touches than Elliott. Elliott played through a knee injury most of last season, and if he finally breaks down, Pollard could erupt. If not, Pollard will still have a shot at another 1,000-yard season with 200-plus touches.

Alexander Mattison, RB, Vikings 

The perennial backup to Dalvin Cook had three games last season in which he had at least 25 touches and surpassed 100 scrimmage yards. Mattison doesn't have Cook's top-end talent, but Cook has missed multiple games every year. In six career starts (four last season), Mattison averaged 4.1 yards per carry and 5.0 yards per touch with five touchdowns.

Matt Breida, RB, Giants

Saquon Barkley hasn't played a full season since 2018, and Devontae Booker had surprising value last year as his backup, averaging 19 touches and 95.5 yards in four fill-in starts. The Giants replaced Booker with Breida this offseason. While his best years came in a Kyle Shanahan offense for the 49ers, the speedy Breida averaged 4.8 yards per carry in 2021 in limited duty for the Bills.

Khalil Herbert, RB, Bears

Herbert had a big month as Chicago's lead back last year while David Montgomery was injured. When Montgomery was out Weeks 5-8, Herbert averaged 22 touches and 97 yards per game, scoring once. He was consistent too, rushing for 75, 97, 100 and 72 yards in four games (two starts). He could see more volume in general under a new coaching staff this season, and second-year growth by QB Justin Fields should help the offense as a whole.

Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Eagles

Miles Sanders has seen his touch volume decline every year, and Eagles coach Nick Sirianni doesn't seem to be a fan. Gainwell showed flashes of three-down ability as a rookie last season, and if Sanders is phased out of the Eagles offense in the final year of his rookie contract, Gainwell seems best positioned to take advantage, as fellow backup Boston Scott typically got stuck in a committee when filling in for Sanders. While no behemoth, Gainwel (5-foot-9) is three inches taller than Scott (5-6) and thus much closer to the prototype for an NFL lead back.

Darrell Henderson, RB, Rams

He got his moments to shine early last season after Cam Akers tore his Achilles tendon before training camp, but Henderson had trouble staying healthy himself in the second half. Akers is atop the depth chart but is still working his way back to full strength after looking like he returned too soon in last year's playoffs. If he's lost a step, or if the Rams want to ease back on his workload, Henderson would benefit. The team otherwise has UDFAs and late draft picks competing for spots behind Henderson, potentially putting him one injury away from a three-down role.

D'Onta Foreman, RB, Panthers

Foreman battled through serious injuries to salvage his career in 2021, getting a chance with the Titans when Derrick Henry went down and helping to stabilize the Tennessee backfield. That's exactly what Carolina was looking for in a backup to Christian McCaffrey, who was limited to 10 games combined the last two seasons. Chuba Hubbard (6-1, 210) had 786 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns last season as McCaffrey's backup, but he also dropped seven passes and averaged only 3.6 YPC. Foreman is a bigger, more physical running back at 6-1, 236.

Ronald Jones, RB, Chiefs

Jones was stuck on the bench last year in Tampa Bay, but he could have a bigger role this season behind Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Jones is fast and elusive and would fit in nicely in the running game if Edwards-Helaire, who missed 10 games the last two years, goes down again. Dropped passes and fumbles have held him back, but if he can at least not be a liability in those areas, Jones should get carries.

Van Jefferson, WR, Rams

Jefferson put together an impressive 2021 as the No. 3 wideout for the Rams, totaling 802 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He'll have that role again behind Cooper Kupp and free-agent addition Allen Robinson, as there is little competition down the WR depth chart. If Kupp or Robinson get injured, Jefferson could really take off in one of the league's best passing games.

Rondale Moore, WR, Cardinals

Moore's rookie season started with a bang thanks to a 7-114-1 line in Week 2, but he was mostly used on short passes near the line of scrimmage the rest of the season. If he's allowed to use his 4.32 speed as a deep threat this year, he will be fantasy relevant in a passing game that otherwise only has Marquise Brown as a real threat until DeAndre Hopkins comes back from his six-game suspension.  

Joshua Palmer, WR, Chargers

Palmer came on strong late in his rookie season, finding the end zone three times in the last five games, adding another weapon to Justin Herbert's arsenal. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams remain entrenched atop the depth chart, but Palmer could capitalize with more targets if one gets injured.

Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, WR, Titans

Tennessee completely gutted its receiving corps in the offseason, with A.J. Brown and Julio Jones replaced by Robert Woods and first-round pick Treylon Burks. As the best of the holdovers, Westbrook-Ikhine has a window to exploit his existing chemistry with Ryan Tannehill and win more targets as the team's primary slot option, especially if Burks struggles as a rookie.

D'Ernest Johnson, RB, Browns

Johnson has proven his worth for Cleveland when either Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt, or both, have been sidelined. If either goes down this season, Johnson is poised to step in.

Trey Sermon, RB, 49ers 

As a third-round rookie, Sermon was a bust last season, but he delivered 89 yards on 19 carries the one game he saw real volume, and the depth chart is fluid behind starter Elijah Mitchell.

Damien Williams, RB, Falcons 

Atlanta's depth chart is fairly barren after converted wideout Cordarrelle Patterson. Williams produced two years ago in Kansas City, and he could get the volume to do it again.

Darrel Williams, RB, Cardinals 

He's coming off a career year with Kansas City, and James Conner's injury history is extensive. Odds are, Williams will get his chances.

Breshad Perriman/Tyler Johnson, WR, Buccaneers 

Chris Godwin likely will miss the beginning of the season, leaving Mike Evans and newcomer Russell Gage in need of a No. 3 WR. Perriman or Johnson could cash in.

Bryan Edwards, WR, Falcons 

Edwards never clicked with the Raiders, but he did occasionally flash some downfield ability, and Marcus Mariota will have to throw to somebody besides TE Kyle Pitts and rookie WR Drake London.

Jauan Jennings, WR, 49ers

If Deebo Samuel gets traded before Week 1, Jennings would suddenly be the No. 2 WR behind Brandon Aiyuk. He produced solid numbers down the stretch in 2021. 

Anthony Schwartz, WR, Browns 

Cleveland revamped its passing game this offseason, and there's an opportunity for Schwartz (a 2021 third-round pick) to claim the No. 2 role behind Amari Cooper with a big preseason.

James Washington, WR, Cowboys 

The former Steeler saw his numbers decline each of the last two seasons, but Dallas has plenty of targets up for grabs with Amari Cooper gone and Michael Gallup recovering from ACL surgery. 

Cedrick Wilson, WR, Dolphins

After a promising season in Dallas last year (45-602-6), Wilson is now the No. 3 WR in Miami where he is one injury away from landing on the fantasy map.

Dan Arnold, TE, Jaguars 

Jacksonville added the erratic Evan Engram, but Arnold could be the one to benefit if Trevor Lawrence takes a big step forward in Year 2.

Josiah Deguara, TE, Packers

It's uncertain whether Robert Tonyan will be ready Week 1 after a season-ending ACL tear, and Deguara, who replaced him midseason last year, could start for an offense with few proven receivers.

Donald Parham, TE, Chargers 

Gerald Everett is the latest veteran rental to top the Bolts' depth chart, but the 6-8 Parham could be a consistent red-zone option for Justin Herbert.

This article appears in the 2022 RotoWire Fantasy Football magazine. Order the magazine now.

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Erik Siegrist
Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.
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